What to Expect from Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a way of life for millions of cancer patients worldwide. Though it is not necessarily a cure for cancer, it is a standard treatment offered to cancer patients, which involves cancerous cells being attacked and killed.

Chemotherapy is used along with surgery or radiation therapy depending on the type of cancer and its location. It is available in various dosage forms, including tablet, capsule, and injection.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, also called cytotoxic therapy, is systemic drug treatment, which can reach cancer cells that may have spread throughout the body.

In the past, any treatment offered to treat cancer was labeled as a chemotherapy. However, as alternative treatments have come to the surface, the chemotherapy concept has changed. In today's world, when people refer to chemotherapy they generally recognize it as a treatment, which aims to kill cancerous cells.

With the advances in modern medicine, today a variety of chemotheraputic agents have been developed to kill cancerous cells. These drugs are classified depending on how they work.

Photo of a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy
Image Copyright by Medical-Reference.net

How does chemotherapy work?

When a malignant tumor forms in our body, the cancerous cells spread from the original tumor so that new tumors can be formed. Chemotherapy helps stop the spread of these cells in the body. However, the specific mechanism for how the therapy works to kill cancer totally depends on the chemotherapeutic agent being used.

For example, an antimetabolite may interfere with cell division by inhibiting the DNA synthesis in the nucleus of the cell. An alkylating agent, such as cyclophosphamide, may cause damage to the DNA strands, which ultimately results in cell death.

Chemotherapy regimens often combine chemotherapeutic agents of different classes so that the cancer cells are attacked with different mechanisms of action, thus increasing effect and decreasing resistance.

Significance of chemotherapy in cancer treatment

Chemotherapy can be used in a variety of ways. Whilst curative chemotherapy aims to cure cancer completely, in other instances, the therapy can be used to make other treatments more successful, for instance, when used in conjunction with radiotherapy or surgery.

Chemotherapy also helps to make a patient's overall condition bearable when the cancer reaches in an incurable, advanced stage. This is part of what is known as palliative care within chemotherapy, which aims to slow the cancer's progression down whilst alleviating the patient's pain.

In the treatment of cancer, sometimes a patient will undergo additional chemotherapy. This additional therapy is needed just to reduce the chances of the cancer relapse.

What can you expect from Chemotherapy?

Whilst chemotherapy has helped scores of patients across the world to recover from cancer, the treatment itself comes with some setbacks.

In fact, chemotherapy is completely opposite to targeted therapies, treatments that treat cancer by targeting specific cancer cells. The drugs used in the therapy are usually not specific to just cancer cells. They cause damage to many normal cells of the body as well as to a variety of different types of tissues. This means that cells that aren’t need to be attacked are destroyed.

Consequently, this can lead to a wide range of side effects, including bone marrow suppression, increased risk of infections, nausea and vomiting, mucositis, fatigue, liver toxicity, skin disease, nerve damage, lung toxicity, neurotoxicity, cardiotoxicity, cognitive dysfunction, renal toxicity, sexual dysfunction, infertility and secondary cancers.

Cancer patients also lose their hair due to adverse reactions by chemotherapeutic drugs, as the drugs potentially attack the fast-growing cells responsible for hair growth.

However, the side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person. Whilst some may find them to be mild, others may have more difficulty when undergoing them, with some finding the pain involved being extremely testing and severe. This explains why some patients opt out of the treatment, even though they knew that their lives are shortened as a result.

Fortunately, once the treatment is finished, the majority of these side effects also subsides.

In terms of the future, doctors and scientists have continued to develop strategies to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. One potential cancer treatment that has been worked is a 'smart bomb', which involves only cancerous cells being attacked and healthy cells being left alone.

Meanwhile, scientists in London recently unveiled a technique involving the blockage of oxygen-sensitive enzymes and combining PHD2 inhibitors with chemotherapy to make the chemotherapy more effective whilst keeping side effects to a minimum. It is said that leaking blood vessels can be responsible for inefficiency of chemotherapy, as they prevent such medications from reaching the cancerous cells.

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